Uber’s woes continue to escalate, and the ridesharing company is scrambling to get back on track.
A few days ago, company president Jeff Jones decided to quit after just six months on the job. He cited the company’s culture as a reason, saying in a statement to Recode: “the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride-sharing business.”
Ouch. That’s a heavy statement from a guy who helped Target regain its footing in the wake of a massive data breach. But Jones’s departure, in my view, is just a symptom of the larger problems that are dragging down Uber’s reputation and, ultimately, its customer experience.
There’s been no shortage of media coverage of Uber’s troubles. Last month, a former Uber engineer published a blog post saying discrimination and sexual harassment was largely ignored by Uber management and human resources personnel. Turns out, other employees have similar stories.
And then, earlier this month, a video online showed company founder Travis Kalanik arguing with an Uber driver. The driver complained that falling fares had forced him into bankruptcy, and Kalanik angrily told the man he needed to take responsibility for his own actions.
And there was the New York City taxi driver protest of the U.S. immigration ban. When cabs stopped servicing JFK airport for a few hours, Uber responded by reducing its JFK prices. Many people viewed this as opportunistic and insensitive and joined a grassroots campaign to delete the Uber app.
Taken together, these events (and there have been a few others just in the past month!) could be seen as painting a picture of Uber as an opportunistic company headed by a brash executive who seems to care more about the economics of success than the plight of his workers. It would appear that, beneath the surface, there’s internal turmoil that will ultimately affect their employees, customers and reputation.
This is a dreadful position for any company to be in!
To be fair, Kalanik later criticized the travel ban and apologized for his behavior in the video. And Uber just announced efforts to make major changes in its corporate culture. This is, I believe, a step in the right direction. But with Kalanik still at the helm, I wonder how successful these efforts will be. Here’s what I see as the two main issues for Uber, from a customer experience perspective.
Uber’s Brand Reputation Has Suffered
In our customer experience research, we’ve learned that people like to do business with brands that share their values. Patagonia, for example, is an outdoorsy-minded company that prides itself on sustainability and fair labor practices. People who share these values happily plunk down close to $200 for a fleece, even though they might buy something similar at a discount retailer for a third the price.
The recent controversies present a very bleak picture of Uber’s values. I’ve always enjoyed taking Uber, but the news stories give me second thoughts. Maybe next time I’ll go with Lyft instead.
Uber’s challenge, then, is to reframe its values so they align with the values of their customers. It is beginning to do this with the announcement that it is investigating sexual harassment and will now require employees to undergo diversity training. Kalanik has also pledged to hire a new executive to help him lead the company.
The Customer Experience Will Suffer Too
A good customer experience doesn’t happen by itself. The companies with the most successful customer experience programs treat their employees well AND communicate customer experience as a company value, from the top down. If front facing employees are unhappy and there’s no leadership from company executives, the customer experience will suffer.
In our customer experience consultancy, we use a variety of tools to address these problems head-on. For example, one of our trainings is a Philosophers Day, where we teach corporate executives the concepts behind customer experience and explain what it would take to truly effect change in their organization. We also work with companies to improve their employee experience, because happy employees become ambassadors who actively improve your customers’ experience.
With its aggressive, win at all costs mindset, Uber seems to have a long way to go. Drivers may feel unhappy about working for a company that doesn’t share their values. They may complain to passengers that they’re underpaid. A disgruntled driver who seems to be angling for a bigger tip can put a negative impression in rider’s minds, leading them to explore other options.
Will Uber turn things around? It will be interesting to find out.
Have recent controversies affected how you feel about using Uber? Share your views in the comments box below.
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX